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MLB Owners Propose WAR-Based Salary Arbitration

  • MLB owners proposed basing player salaries on wins above replacement, as calculated by FanGraphs, when a player is arbitration-eligible.
  • They also proposed an age-based system to determine when players reach free agency.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/Design: Alex Brooks

Major League Baseball owners made an unusual proposal in their ongoing labor talks with the MLB Players Association: replace the current salary arbitration system with a formula based on wins above replacement.

The proposal would use WAR as calculated by baseball analytics site FanGraphs.

WAR attempts to estimate how many wins each player is worth over a full season compared to a generic “replacement level” player — such as one in the team’s minor league system or available via trade for a nominal return.

  • Under the current collective bargaining agreement, MLB players typically make league-minimum salaries in their first three years, followed by an additional three years in which salaries are determined by arbitration.
  • The current arbitration system does not rely on a precise formula but typically leans on stats like batting average, stolen bases, runs batted in, earned run average, and saves.
  • Owners have also proposed having free agency start when a player reaches the age of 29½.

Projected arbitration salaries for the 2022 season range from $600,000 to $19.8 million for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trea Turner, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

The proposal is reportedly unlikely to gain traction with the MLBPA. The two sides are scheduled to continue negotiations on Monday.

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